Big things have been expected from the moment Yancy Gates stepped foot onto Cincinnati’s campus in the summer of 2008. The five-star 6-foot-9 260 pound power forward from Withrow High School has been solid in his first two seasons – but if he and his teammates want to get Cincinnati back to the NCAA tournament, Gates will need to play at a higher level.
After Cincinnati lost to Dayton in the NIT last season, Gates started to take a look at what he had accomplished in his first two years. With the loss to Dayton still fresh in his mind Gates did some soul searching and realized that if he was going to take that next step he would have to put in a lot of work in the summer to improve his game.
After a summer of intense workouts, Gates feels he is ready to take his game to the next level.
“I'm more mature,” said Gates. “I've been through it two years now, so I really know what to expect coming in with practice getting started. The work I did over the summer, a lot of the people I talked to I think it really helped me grow up a little bit.”
A large part of that training he did over the summer was a trip to San Francisco to run the sand dunes. While the main goal of the trip was to improve the physical side of his game, it also paid dividends in his mental approach as well.
“When I went out to San Francisco to work out I saw how hard other people around the country work out,” said Gates. “Seeing how hard they work and actually seeing what it takes to become a better player. I think that helped me a lot to understand the maturity level you have to have as far as being focused and ready come in and work hard every day in practice or games no matter what it is.”
Whether it was an early morning workout or working out when it was cold Gates feels the entire experience has really benefited him both mentally and physically.
“Mentally it did a lot,” said Gates. “Working out of your comfort zone really helps you mentally stay focused on what you're doing instead of if your chest is burning or if your legs are tired. It just keeps you working on what you want to accomplish.”
Head coach Mick Cronin has been challenging Gates to take that next step ever since the final horn sounded on his sophomore season, and he is very pleased with the progress Gates has made over the summer.
“He's had a tremendous summer.” Cronin said. “He's changed his body and he changed his attitude. But in all fairness to him, he had to grow up in front of everyone’s eyes and he was asked to be responsible as a player and mature as a player when he wasn't quite ready to be. He's been able to take that and become a grown man and his approach has been great, his leadership has been great and his effort has been tremendous.”
One thing that Cronin has been missing as he enters his 5th season as the head coach of his alma mater is an on court leader to set the tone for the program. While it is yet to be seen if Gates can be that guy in crunch time of Big East games, he has started to assume that role with his teammates this summer.
“He's definitely helped,” said Cronin. “We talk a lot about leadership and you can't lead by example if your example is one people don't want to follow. People aren't going to listen to your voice if they don't like what they see. To have a winning season, to have a great season your best player has to be your hardest worker or one of your two or three hardest workers. He was our hardest worker in every one of our strength and conditioning sessions, according to (Strength and Conditioning coach) Dave Andrews, over the last 5 months.”
The coaching staff is not the only ones that have noticed a change in Gates’ attitude. Some of Gates’ teammates have noticed a difference in Gates as well.
Redshirt freshman Sean Kilpatrick has seen a noticeable difference in Gates from a year ago when he got on campus to now.
“He looks a lot more focused compared to last year,” said Kilpatrick. “On the court he's more of a vocal leader. Where last year he would just say do this or do that now he's demanding it from us. He's helped us a lot.”
One big factor in becoming a leader is doing what is expected of you when no one is looking, and Cronin has heard the tale of his powerful big man doing just that in the weight room this offseason.
“It was to the point Yancy would stop strength and conditioning sessions with no coaches present and make guys redo drills because he didn't think they were working hard enough,” said